Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain

By Louise Campbell | Go to book overview

11
Provost and Architect

A CEREMONY held on the last day of 1958, to dedicate a chapel created in the east part of the undercroft of the new cathedral, seemed to observers to inaugurate a new era. The chapel, known as the 'Chapel of the Cross,' was fitted out at the request of the new Provost, who wished to provide the cathedral congregation (who since 1946 had met in the west crypt under the ruins) with a place to worship (Plate 147). Spence had commissioned for the chapel, at his own expense, an altar set and candlesticks, designed by Geoffrey Clarke and cast in nickel bronze, set with thick glass which reflected the light, and illuminated by an integral light-fitting (Plate 148). The cross provided a dramatic backdrop for the service, during which the old Provost carried a torch, lit from candles used at the last Eucharist celebrated in the old crypt chapel, to the sanctuary rails where he handed it to the new Provost who 'lit the altar candles for the first time on the site of the new Cathedral.'1 Clarke's sparkling cross seemed highly appropriate to this ceremony, its 'craggy disintegrating form' reminding spectators of the charred cross set upon the altar in the ruins of the old cathedral, but also symbolizing the progressive and dynamic aspects of the new cathedral.2

With the congregation now installed in the new cathedral, the clergy could begin to envisage how they might use it. Williams had arrived in Coventry in September 1958 from South- ampton, where he had watched over the reconstruction of the church of St Mary after bomb- damage, built up a new congregation, and transformed it from a society church into one which provided for the needs of a run-down inner-city parish near the docks. This experience clearly shaped his attitude to his new job at Coventry.3 Provost Williams was above all interested in the function of the new cathedral building: first, in the provision of a place for the congregation to meet and to worship; secondly in the creation of a sanctuary where the Eucharist could be celebrated in a modern fashion, with the participation of the laity; and

____________________
1
R. T. Howard, Ruined and Rebuilt: The Story of Coventry Cathedral 1939-1962 (Coventry, 1962), 102-3.
2
G. Hughes, "'Modern British Silver III'", Studio, 159 ( Mar. 1960), 84. In conversation in Sept. 1991, Mrs Clarke recalled the ceremony as extremely moving.
3
See interview with E Kelsey, "'The New Cathedral and the Community'", Cathedral Reborn ( Manchester, 1962), 39-40.

-206-

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Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Color Plates ix
  • LIST OF BLACK AND WHITE PLATES xi
  • Abbreviations xix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I. Architecture and Politics 5
  • 1 The Cathedral and the City: The Blitz, Civic Ideology And Reconstruction 7
  • 2 The Cathedral Project 1940-1947 22
  • 3 'towards a New Cathedral'? 37
  • Part II. The Creative Process 69
  • 4 Modernism and Tradition: The Genesis of Spence's Competition Design 71
  • 5 The Competition Design Refined, 1951-1954 81
  • 6 The Architect and the Artist 102
  • Part III. Design into Building 131
  • 7 The Licence to Build, 1954 133
  • 8 The Turning-Point, 1954-1956 141
  • 9 The Design Recast, 1956-1958 148
  • Pa IV. For and Function 193
  • 10 The Modern Church 195
  • 11 Provost and Architect 206
  • 12 The Cathedral Completed, 1960-1962 216
  • 13 The Cathedral and the Post-War World: Austerity and Triumphalism 243
  • Conclusion 254
  • APPENDIX: DONATIONS 276
  • Bibliography 278
  • Index 283
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